Apple’s SSO

Of all the things Apple announced yesterday, the most interesting one was a small feature they casually dropped - an Apple-branded SSO or their own version of a ‘social login’. While it seems similar to the Facebook or Google login buttons you see on many sites, this third-party login doesn’t share your email address with the service providers you use it to register with and goes so far as to generate and maintain separate unique alias email addresses.

The service providers get access to the relevant information they need to provide you with whatever service they offer but it’s up to you to share your name or email address. At face value, this is almost too good to be true because it shifts the locus of control to the user. In true Apple fashion, they’ve made this mandatory for developers that use third-party logins.

I’m cautiously optimistic and excited about Apple’s pivot to a privacy-conscious organisation but as with all these things, the detail is in the fine print.

Books, 2019

There have been some great books these last few years that I’ve finally managed to get around to. Here are some of my favourites so far.

How to Change your Mind by Michael Pollan - This is such a tricky subject to write given that most first-hand accounts of psychedelics and hallucinogens tend to be mystical and tedious to read. Pollan manages to write about the subject while making genuine inroads into our understanding, or lack thereof, of consciousness. The book is accessible, entertaining - he includes an entire chapter on ‘tripping’ on a variety of drugs - and very informative.

Eating Animals by Jonathan Safron Foer - Ever since we got a dog, I’ve been somewhat queasy about eating meat, especially the four-legged variety. While the book can put off the more avid meat-eaters among us, there are some compellingly documented reasons to be wary of of factory farming, the cruelty it inflicts on animals and it’s impact on the environment. There’s an interesting counterpoint to ‘nature is cruel’ argument as well that I found particularly insightful. If anything, the book has been directly responsible for me giving up KFC and staying away from lamb, beef and pork over the last few months.

The People vs Tech by Jamie Bartlett - Technology giants are an easy target and writing about evil algorithms and smartphone addiction is in vogue and lucrative; however, the point needs to be hammered home. I found Bartlett’s book a bit too on-the-nose but still riveting - he paints a picture of how we got here and how our reverence for technology has blinded us to it’s impact on democracy. It’s bleak and provides little hope much like another book I read this year.

The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace Wells - This is both one of the best and worst books I’ve read in the last few years. Wells paints a bleak picture of the horrors of climate change and how we’re programmed to ignore slow decimation. He tackles the unfairness of climate change - the countries that shoulder the most ‘climate guilt’ will see the least impact and the best case scenario that he (and the IPCC) paints isn’t ideal - a 2.5 degrees increase is still catastrophic - but the worst case scenario is downright depressing. There are some optimistic takeaways but they’re mostly relegated to the last few pages. I’d say this was essential reading especially for those that believe the invisible hand of the market or increased awareness will save us.

Exhalation by Ted Chiang - Chiang returns with a book of science fiction short stories (following Stories of Your Life) that are entertaining and mind-expanding. There are some genuinely excellent stories here especially, ‘The Lifecycle of Software Objects’ and ‘Anxiety is the Dizziness of Feeling’.

The Overstory by Richard Powers - This book is full of such rich detail, especially the first half where it paints elaborate portraits of its varied protagonists. As with most books I’ve read this year, the environment and our impact on it is a major theme.

On Disconnecting from Social Media

I’ve flirted with the idea of scrubbing my social media presence for a while now - aside from being a time-suck, we’re entering an era where these giant conglomerates aren’t just ethically ambiguous anymore, they’re starting to seem downright morally bankrupt.

Jaron Lanier has a new book where he outlines why everyone should delete their social media accounts (right now!) that I found particularly good at articulating why I eventually bit the bullet and deleted all my social media profiles.

  • Argument 1: You are losing your free will.

  • Argument 2: Quitting social media is the most finely targeted way to resist the insanity of our times.

  • Argument 3: Social media is making you into an asshole.

  • Argument 4: Social media is undermining truth.

  • Argument 5: Social media is making what you say meaningless.

  • Argument 6: Social media is ruining your capacity for empathy.

  • Argument 7: Social media is making you unhappy.

  • Argument 8: Social media doesn’t want you to have economic dignity.

  • Argument 9: Social media is making politics impossible.

  • Argument 10: Social media hates your soul.

Recommended reading: Do You Have a Moral Duty to Leave Facebook?

On Devices and Behavior

With the recent Apple Watch and iPhone announcements, a couple of things stand out. There’s a pronounced way our behavior is being molded by these products.

Apple Watch Series 4 comes with the ability to take ECG measurements. While this sounds immensely useful, my wife pointed out this would potentially contribute to self-diagnoses and anxiety.

"Do you wind up catching a few undiagnosed cases? Sure. But for the vast majority of people it will have either no impact or possibly a negative impact by causing anxiety or unnecessary treatment," says cardiologist Theodore Abraham, director of the UCSF Echocardiography Laboratory. The more democratized you make something like ECG, he says, the more you increase the rate of false positives—especially among the hypochondriac set.


Another annoying outcome is the death of the small phone; Apple seems to have all but given up on the SE series, which in hindsight, was the perfect size for a phone. We’re left with a slew of devices that are clumsy and awkward to hold and use.

And not just hands. Bigger phones take up more pocket and purse real estate. They strain your thumbs and stress your jeans. They’re more frustrating to run with. They demand both hands to operate. They also arguably require more mental space; the larger the screen, the more you do with it, and the more easily it becomes the locus of your daily life.


It Takes Two (To Thwart Data Breaches)

Some interesting insight from Gemalto's 2017 Data Breaches and Customer Loyalty Report:

  • Of the 10,000 consumers interviewed, only 27% feel businesses take customer data security seriously
  • 70% would take their business elsewhere following a breach
  • 41% fail to take advantage of available security measures available such as multi-factor authentication
  • 56% use the same password for multiple online accounts

While consumers are rightfully skeptical of the security hygiene of businesses they interact with, there is certainly a role for consumers to play here. 


Krebs on IoT Vulnerabilities

Brian Krebs has some interesting insight into this past weekend's DDoS attack on Dyn, an internet infrastructure company that provides services for some of the web's biggest destinations including Twitter, Amazon, Reddit and Netflix.

At first, it was unclear who or what was behind the attack on Dyn. But over the past few hours, at least one computer security firm has come out saying the attack involved Mirai, the same malware strain that was used in the record 620 Gpbs attack on my site last month. At the end September 2016, the hacker responsible for creating the Mirai malware released the source code for it, effectively letting anyone build their own attack army using Mirai.

Mirai scours the Web for IoT devices protected by little more than factory-default usernames and passwords, and then enlists the devices in attacks that hurl junk traffic at an online target until it can no longer accommodate legitimate visitors or users.


The wholesalers and retailers of these devices might then be encouraged to shift their focus toward buying and promoting connected devices which have this industry security association seal of approval. Consumers also would need to be educated to look for that seal of approval. Something like Underwriters Laboratories (UL), but for the Internet, perhaps.

Until then, these insecure IoT devices are going to stick around like a bad rash — unless and until there is a major, global effort to recall and remove vulnerable systems from the Internet. In my humble opinion, this global cleanup effort should be funded mainly by the companies that are dumping these cheap, poorly-secured hardware devices onto the market in an apparent bid to own the market. Well, they should be made to own the cleanup efforts as well.

The upside here is that IoT manufacturers and vendors will now have to wisen up to the fact that they have more to gain from secure devices and a lot to lose from a repeat of this weekend's events.

On Aesthetic Diversity (or lack thereof)

While sifting through Airbnb for our upcoming honeymoon, we noticed that apartments in Tokyo and Kyoto looked noticeably similar to the ones we've stayed at in Australia and even, Hawaii. You're also likely to notice that with local cafes and restaurants - exposed walls, raw wood tables and brushed ceramic cups. The Verge has a surprisingly insightful piece on the phenomenon.

"As an affluent, self-selecting group of people move through spaces linked by technology, particular sensibilities spread, and these small pockets of geography grow to resemble one another, as Schwarzmann discovered: the coffee roaster Four Barrel in San Francisco looks like the Australian Toby’s Estate in Brooklyn looks like The Coffee Collective in Copenhagen looks like Bear Pond Espresso in Tokyo. You can get a dry cortado with perfect latte art at any of them, then Instagram it on a marble countertop and further spread the aesthetic to your followers."


"The connective emotional grid of social media platforms is what drives the impression of AirSpace. If taste is globalized, then the logical endpoint is a world in which aesthetic diversity decreases. It resembles a kind of gentrification: one that happens concurrently across global urban centers. Just as a gentrifying neighborhood starts to look less diverse as buildings are renovated and storefronts replaced, so economically similar urban areas around the world might increasingly resemble each other and become interchangeable."

On Deep Work

“An even more extreme example of a onetime grand gesture yielding results is a story involving Peter Shankman, an entrepreneur and social media pioneer. As a popular speaker, Shankman spends much of his time flying. He eventually realized that thirty thousand feet was an ideal environment for him to focus. As he explained in a blog post, “Locked in a seat with nothing in front of me, nothing to distract me, nothing to set off my ‘Ooh! Shiny!’ DNA, I have nothing to do but be at one with my thoughts.” It was sometime after this realization that Shankman signed a book contract that gave him only two weeks to finish the entire manuscript. Meeting this deadline would require incredible concentration. To achieve this state, Shankman did something unconventional. He booked a round-trip business-class ticket to Tokyo. He wrote during the whole flight to Japan, drank an espresso in the business class lounge once he arrived in Japan, then turned around and flew back, once again writing the whole way—arriving back in the States only thirty hours after he first left with a completed manuscript now in hand. “The trip cost $4,000 and was worth every penny,” he explained.” 

- Cal Newport, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World